Oakland Starling Marte gestures after hitting a two RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at the Oakland Ring Central Coliseum on Fri Sep 24, 2021 (AP News photo)
Houston 2 – 2 – 0
Oakland 14 – 14 – 1
By Lewis Rubman
Friday September 24, 2021
OAKLAND–Going into their penultimate series with Houston, with only the wan hope of retaining their sliver of a chance of winning the second wild card slot and everything to lose, it seemed as though the A’s might have caught a break when Houston’s Zack Greinke, tonight’s scheduled starter for the Astros, was placed on the club’s injured list with a sore neck and replaced on the mound by Brandon Bielak, a 24 year old with the grand total of 79 major league innings pitched under his belt and a record of 3-3, 4.21 in this, his second season in the show.
But the 37 year old Greinke is an old man by baseball standards and, at 11-6, 4.11, was sporting numbers only marginally better than those of Bielak, who had defeated the Athletics in relief at the Coliseum on April 4 with 4-2/3 innings of no hit, no run moundcraft.
He was up against Frankie Montás, who was exceptionally sharp in his last outing, five days ago in Anaheim, when he held the Angels to one hit in seven scoreless innings to bring his year’s record to 12-9, 3.57.
When the dust had settled and the crowd of 21,107 got ready to watch the fireworks that had enticed them into attendance,
The game started inauspiciously for the home. team. José Altuve smacked a sharp grounder to Matt Chapman at third, who airmailedthe throw way over Matt Olson’s head at first. Altuve kept motoring all the way to third, where Olson’s throw beat to the bag.
But Chapman couldn’t handle the throw, and Altuve was 90 feet from home on a three base error by Oakland’s Gold and Platinum Glove winning third sacker.
Alex Bregman, another slick fielding third baseman, put runners on the corners by getting hit by a 96 mph sinker. Yuri Gurriel’s sac fly to Seth Brown in right drove in Altuve with the first tally of evening. Montás, showing a great deal of poise, put a stop to the Astro’s attack by striking Yordán Alvarez and Carlos Correa out.
Oakland went on the offensive in their half of the first. Josh Harrison drive bounced past Bregman into left for a lead off single. Starling Marte followed with another single to left, and the A’s had runners on first and second and the powerful Matt Olson at bat with no outs.
The powerful Matt Olson took an 89 mph change up for a called third strike. With Mark Canha at the plate, Harrison broke for second. Houston catcher Martín Maldonado threw behind him to Altuve at second, whose throw to Bregman easily retired Harrison at third for the second out. Marte’s advancing to second on the play didn’t matter; Canha went down swinging.
Leading off in the third frame, Altuve continued to bedevil the A’s and their fans, who took special delight in booing him, by driving a 3-2 pitch over the State Farm advertisement in left center for his 30th round tripper of the year. It was Houston’s first hit of the game.
Oakland got two runners on base with one out in the third on walks to Andrus and Harrison. Marte came through with a single to center that scored Andrus and sent Harrison to third. Olson also came through in the same way, scoring Harrison and sending Marte to third.
Canha’s sac fly to McCormick in left center gave the A’s a 3-1 lead before Brown flew out, also to Mc Cormick, in straightaway left field to end the inning, leaving the Athletics up by a run.
Bielak didn’t come out for the fourth. He’d thrown 54 pitches, 31 for strikes, and the three rns he surrendered were earned. He allowed four hits and two walks, against three strike outs. Rookie Peter Solomon replaced him and put down the last four men in the Oakland batting order, allowing only a single to Gomes.
Bielak still was on the mound when Seth Brown became the second A to be thrown out attempting to steal. He had singled, sandwiched between strike outs of Canha and Chapman, and Maldonado’s throw to Correa was right on the button.
Montás began to waiver in the top of the seventh, After granting a lead off walk to Kyle Tucker, he allowed an opposite field single to McCormick. Jake Meyers sacrificed the runners up a base each.
With the infield drawn in, Montás snared Meyers´shot to the mound and threw him out at first, leaving runners still on second and third when Altuve came to bat, accompanied by his usual round of boos and catcalls. The diminutive second sacker sent a hard line drive … directly into the glove of Kemp in left for the third out.
When the ´stros took the field in the home half of the seventh, Yimi García was on the mound for them, facing the bottom of the order. Kemp and Gomes singled to center, putting men on the corners for Andrus. He flew out to right, bringing Harrison to the plate.
After a 13 pitch battle, he walked to clog the basepaths. On the very next pitch, Marte rifled a double down the left field line, sending Kemp and Gomes home, Harrison to third, García to the showers, and southpaw hurler Brooks Raley to the hill.
Olson drew a full count before striking out swinging, which left clean up hitter Mark Canha the job of further padding the Oakland lead. The count on him also went to 3-2. Then Canha went to first on a base on balls that reloaded the bases.
Chad Pender pinch hit for Brown and unloaded them. His grand slam cleared the left filed wall with plenty to spare, landing 425 feet from home and giving the A’s a 9-2 lead. It was his fourth home run of the year and second gland slam of his career. Chapman’s strike out was anticlimatic.
Yusmeiro Petit came in for the Houston eighth and set the Astros down in order. Montás had gone seven innngs and allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits, three walks, and three hit batters. His pitch count reached 106, 65 of them strikes.
Seth Martínez opened the eighth for the visitors. Oakland promptly loaded the bases on him with singles by Kemp and Andrus, interspersed by a walk to Gomes. Skye Bolt, who replaced Harrison, who had battered himself with foul balls in his last at bat, walked to make the score 10-2.
Meyers made a diving attempt to capture Marte’s fly to left center but failed, and everyone moved up a base. The bases once again were loaded, and Olson was at bat. He slammed the second pitch he saw off the center field fence for his 34th double of the season, driving in the three men in front of him and upping the A’s margin, which by now was a chasm, to 14-2. Chapman struck out for the fifth time, ending the inning, the second in a row in which Oakland had sent nine men to the plate.
The Athletics entrusted the fairly easy task of holding a 12 run lead for one inning and the more difficult one of maintaining his concentration to Domingo Acevedo. He walked three of the six batters he faced, He struck out the other three.
Montás, with the win, is 13-9, 3.48. The loss went to. Bielak, now 3-4, 4.50.
Marte led the Oakland hit parade with four, followed by Olson, Kemp, and Gomes with two. Harrison, Brown, Pinder, and Andrus also added to their hit totals.
After the three hour 41 minute game had ended, the distance between the division leading Astros and the third place Athletics had been reduced to seven games. They are four games behind the Yankees in the second wild card sweepstakes
It will be Sean Manaea (10-10, 4.o5) against. Framber Valdez (11-5, 3.07) in a battle of left handers starting Saturday afternoon at 1:07.